George Lucas Educational Foundation

Go Year-Round: A Push for True Summer School

Kids aren't helping plow the fields anymore, so why are we throwing away three months?
Milton Chen
Senior Fellow
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Summer vacation is a powerful anachronism that dates back to agrarian days, when farm families needed young people home during the summer months to replace the three R's with the two P's -- plantin' and pickin'. Today, now that fewer family farms remain and agricultural mechanization is standard, students need to be harvesting knowledge year-round.

In the Internet age, information is more accessible, and learning should happen during and after the school day -- nights, weekends, and summers. As dreamy as a long summer break may be, unless a kid is flipping burgers six days a week, it's education downtime we can no longer afford. More than ten years ago, the U.S. Department of Education organized a panel with an unusual title: the National Education Commission on Time and Learning. The panel issued a report that began, "Learning in America is a prisoner of time. For the past 150 years, American public schools have held time constant and let learning vary. Some bright, hardworking students do reasonably well. Everyone else -- from the typical student to the dropout -- runs into trouble."

The problem, according to the commission, is not just the length of the school year but also the lockstep "gridding" of the school day. The report emphasized that American schools have been operating under the tyranny of time; the length of the typical school period (45-50 minutes), the school day (8 a.m. to 3 p.m. or so), and the school year (180 days) is remarkably rigid across the nation. Secondary school students, especially, are required to march in assemblyline fashion throughout the day, where bells still ring to signal the closing of books and the flooding of hallways. The unchanging schedule prevents students from working in depth on projects and venturing into the community to gather data or talk to local experts. Teachers are also isolated in their classrooms by this rigid schedule, so they miss out on opportunities to learn from other teachers and share ideas.

Teaching may be the only profession where members have so little control over how their time is spent. Other industrial nations recognize that more time can equal more learning: Countries like Germany and Japan have longer school days and years, lengthening the focus on core academic subjects. Some schools in the United States, however, have started instituting more innovative approaches to school schedules.

In the year-round program at Fairview Elementary School, in Modesto, California, for example (see "Power to the People,"), students benefit from an emphasis on civic literacy and responsibility in addition to a regular academic program with about the same number of school days as traditional schools. And for the 2004-05 school year, the Alice Carlson Applied Learning Center, in Fort Worth, Texas, scheduled four blocks of about nine weeks each and fall and spring intersession workshops, allowing its K-5 students time for hands-on arts, science, and computer projects or sports in addition to language arts and math enrichment. (For more information on year-round schools, visit the Web site of the National Association for Year-Round Education.)

As Ernest Hemingway once said, with typical brevity, "Time is all we have." It's about time schools change how they use it.

Milton Chen is executive director of The George Lucas Educational Foundation.

Comments (33) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You said "You wasted 20 min of my time two iI give this 6 thumbs down!" If it took you 20 minutes to read a one page article, you need help.

Emily Rae Freely's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

im doing a report at school for year round schools and i hate reading so it took me forever to read this. haha but i found that it was somewhat helpful,,i just really needed to know how many schools in the U.S. are year round.

Nat Thao's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi! I'm doing a research project on Schools going to be year round and this really helped me a lot. Thank You!!

Nat Thao's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

LOL..That is so funny. But its true not what the other person said.

t's picture

School suckes already why make it longer???

Nathan Horner's picture

I like the idea. Everyone hates going to school and if we get more frequent breaks more people might enjoy school. But i'm going for the idea of no school. Ever.

Cindy Phan's picture

No! PLEASE. I like the summer. I get more time with my family! We don't need it at all. :/

Mr. Vernon Louis Otero's picture
Mr. Vernon Louis Otero
I am serious about whatever I engage in. Right Now, it Is Education!

I tutor English to Teachers from other countries whose primary language is something other then English.
China: School is 11 days straight, 3 days off. Both are for the Teachers and Students. There are 2 Months for summer break. The classes start at 7:30 AM and cease at 9:30 PM. The Teachers are provided accommodations, but my friend likes to have Breakfeast, at home. They did not have to pay anything. The students must have uniforms, materials, and whatever equipment, and are not provided for the school, at all, Not even meals. And, she has shared with me that at least more than once a week she can be home by 7:30PM. She is thankful, is 45 years old, and Teaches English to Middle School Boys and Girls. She wanted me to help her with her English. I miss her. So I wonder, who will be serving the Beijing Duck to whom? vlo

Roberta Phillips's picture

I was in year-round school in Middle School. 45 days in school, 15 days off - it was great! It gave me a brain break without losing what I had just learned. We took vacations at different times of the year - vs in the summer with millions of other people.

The only challenges were that I played sports and all of our competitors were on traditional school years and I had an older brother on traditional calendar. That created two big scheduling issues. If the whole district is not on year-round you can divide families. I loved playing sports, but I honestly believe that sports should be moved to the community vs the school.

Linda Checovich's picture

Yesterday my classroom was about 95 degrees. I can't imagine what it would be in July.
Good idea if air conditioning is supplied.

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